HOUS April 2011 : Page 77

Centre London, which Bettany describes as a “notorious English method school,” before winning his first paying stage role in Stephen Daldry’s London revival of An Inspector Calls. “He put me in the play and suddenly I was earningmoney, and that was really it,” Bettany says. The dashing actor’s breakthrough with American studios came in 2001when he memorably appeared as legendary author Geoffrey Chaucer opposite Heath Ledger in the medieval action flick A Knight’s Tale. “That’s what introduced me to American audiences. And that was that,” he says simply, saving his thoughts for roles he feels passionate about, such as starring opposite Connelly in Creation. “I mean, even if you don’t believe it, [Darwin] arguably had the greatest idea humans ever had,” Bettany asserts. “It’s f***ing frightening to be that clever. That was really challenging, I loved that role.” Bettany isn’t just “talking smart” about his films, he’s deeply engaged in the story being told. He’s instructive when it comes to his part in Margin Call, one of Sundance 2011’s biggest successes. “It tells the story of an investment banker in the last 24 hours before the financial crisis. They make this decision to be the first person to the punch, really. They realize that the boom is over and that they are living it up to the point they are not on thin ice, the ice is actually broken,” he explains. for fivemonths,’” he says with a laugh. Then hemocks, “‘Oh no, I’ve gotta go to f***ing Tokyo…’ F***ing grow up! Go get a real f***ing job and let somebody else go,” Bettany bellows, disgusted by some of what he’s heard over 20 years in show business. Perhaps channeling his Priest character, Bettany makes a tempting superhero himself—zealous and unalterably on a mission to protect sacred, if old-fashioned values: family, private time and Hollywood sanity. There are those commanding looks, his slate-blue eyes, a rapier’swit,wrapped in a self-effacing dexterity with taking questions. Which brings us to the question Bettany’s been asked a lot lately. The King’s Speech, which won theOscar for Best Picture, wondrously played by Best Actor winner Colin Firth, was written by Best Screenplay winner David Seidler, who— whoops!—just let it slip that the role of King George VI was actually written for and first offered to the very man I am eating kale salad with—and he turned it down. What? “It’s so inelegant to talk about it,” Bettany says calmly, giving me the chance to abandon the question, but before I do, Bettany bursts with characteristic sincerity. “Colin did a really f***ing great job, and it’s an incredibly powerful performance...” Bettany begins. The King’s Speech, which won theOscar for Best Picture, played by Best Actor winner Colin Firth and written by Best Screenplay winner David Seidler... was first offered to the very man I’m eating kale salad with—and he turned it down. “[Making Margin Call] really reminded me why I love acting,” Bettany adds, reminiscing about how the low-budget indie film packed an all-star cast including Stanley Tucci,Kevin Spacey, ZacharyQuinto, Jeremy Irons andDemiMoore. “No trailers!” he exclaims. “We had rooms on the same floor where we were filming all night long—all night long, all night long!” he says, still astonished by the exhausting 17-day shoot, covering 10 to 15 pages of script per day. “KevinSpaceycamein,andhehadathree-pagemonologue— the monologue which, I’m sure, was the reason he did the movie—and he came in, they put the camera up, he did it once and the director said, ‘Do you want to go again?’ And [Spacey] says, ‘I don’t think we’ve got time.’” He laughs, savoring the anecdote. “Everybody was too frightened to be a prima donna.” Flexing his English manners, Bettany insists making movies “doesn’t have to be painful.” He says he prefers to see each day’s tension on the set as a great puzzle. “You get up in the morning and there is a problem, and the problem is the story. It’s like filling in a crossword puzzlewith a bunch of really bright, fun people…I hate shouters, I hate people being rude to others on set, I won’t f***ing have it.” And he’s got no time for actors who whine on the job. “Something like over 90 percent of actors arenotworking and you are. That’swhy I hate hearing actorsmoan, ‘I have to be inMexico …And? (I’m ready to hear it.) “I would be totally lying to say I haven’t gone, ‘F*** me!’” he confesses. “[But] I had just finished Priest, and I had a Skype call with my son, and you know—I have never gonemore than two weeks away from my family; we always see each other—I felt that he needed his daddy,” Bettany explains. Was Priest director Stewart surprised Bettany turned down the kingly role, a part practically sewn on him? “Not at all,” Stewart says matter-of-factly. “Paul places his family above everything else. I think people in this business respect him for that.” “You are faced with some really tricky decisions and sometimes you have tomake judgments based on a Skype call,” Bettany says. But what about all the awards and critical acclaim it’s received? “I regret not working with [director] TomCooper on a great script with a great actor like Geoffrey Rush,” Bettany allows. He adds, “However, I can guarantee you if the situation were to happen again—and I saw my kid’s face!—I guarantee you I would make the same decision again.” He comes back to the subject of family one more time. “I want to raise my children, I don’t want themto be raised by an employee,” he says firmly. “I’m not going on back-to-back jobs like I’m a 24-year-old actor; I’m going home!” H April 2011 | | 77

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